Local music venues are the lifeblood of the music scene. It is a statement we are all aware of but one that unfortunately is a common point of discussion between music fans due to the increasing challenges for venues. You hear it all the time, support your small cap venues and ensure bands have somewhere to begin their journey. The importance of this cannot be overstated and lo and behold it is true. At this time when a fan's ability to physically attend their local venue has been stripped away, this issue is more prominent than ever. So we at Noizze have decided to curate a list of the venues we feel are important in the areas we are based.
Where better to start than the venue where even Noizze cut it's teeth reviewing the shows put on from behind the bar. Cardiff's own Fuel Rock Club started life as a club night on September 9, 2006 after local DJ & rock fan Rob Toogood realised that there weren't enough places that played the music that he and so many others loved. After outgrowing it's first venue and then surviving the closure of it's second, Fuel moved to it's present full-time home on the infamous Womanby Street, in the heart of Cardiff's music quarter and remains a thriving and important venue. Fuel is now the only dedicated rock & metal venue in Cardiff, providing a hub for all fans of heavy music and carrying on Cardiff's tradition of legendary rock venues.
With the current pandemic sweeping the globe, on Monday 16th March Fuel made the hard decision to close its doors for the duration of Covid-19, a risky decision that so many venues had to make though safety of staff and customers outweighs the financial constraints. With a long standing affiliation with the venue we decided to approach owners Angie Evans and Rob Toogood to provide us with an in-depth look into the impact of COVID-19 thus far on this iconic venue:
"On Monday 16th March, further to government advice to ‘avoid’ pubs, clubs & restaurants, we made the decision to close for 2 nights. The previous Sunday had been a quiet night for us, and we expected the Monday and Tuesday to follow suit. By the Wednesday, although we could still officially open as the government hadn’t enforced a closure, we took the decision to close for the duration of COVID-19. This was a risky decision: we knew we wouldn’t be insured because it wasn’t a government-led decision, and we hadn’t been promised any government support at this point; but there becomes a point where the safety of staff and customers becomes paramount, and this felt like the right time for us to close due to safety concerns.
The following couple of weeks was a busy deluge of the unknown. We had to research best practices in terms of closing the beer lines, soda lines and other technical equipment. We had no money coming in, so we had to contact all our suppliers to see if they could give us a payment break or other assistance. This included large suppliers, like our product suppliers, our landlord, our utilities etc, but also loads of smaller ones, like music licences, cleaning supplies and the like. Through all this we did a detailed stock check to record and organise sell-by dates of product, and we ultimately decided to board up the glass front doors of FUEL to lessen the chance of damage or break in. We were also kept very busy with cancelling or postponing gigs: we generally have 4 or 5 a week! This remains one of our biggest challenges for two reasons: we don’t know how long the closure will go on for, and also our calendar gets booked up well in advance, so we now need to find extra dates for all of the postponements.
One of the most important things on our mind was the staff, some of whom have been employed for a number of years. We’d done our best to ensure their safety by closing as early as possible, and now we had to do our best to ensure that we were able to give them their regular weekly pay however possible. Any small grassroot music venue will know that margins are almost impossibly tight at the best of times. We were lucky enough to be able to afford a week of wages without income, but I know many venues that struggled to manage even this, and were forced to stay open for the following weekend in order to make that extra bit of money for their staff.
We have a great relationship with other local similar venues, and at times like this it is a great comfort to be able to speak to people who are in the same position as us, and bounce ideas off each other. Some strong relationships already existed, but they’ve been cemented by our mutual membership of the Music Venue Trust. This charity is a constant source of information and assistance for us, and other venues like us across the UK. They’ve helped us in the past, but in this sort of a crisis, they really come into their own. They’ve proactively given all venues information on grants and loans, and how to access them. They’ve set up an online chat every morning at 11am, which is kind of a relaxed ‘tea break’ kind of format to make you feel included and not ‘on your own’. They often feature an artist who will play a couple of songs from their own home and talk about the issues facing musicians."
"In terms of sustaining some sort of income, I think we’re one of the lucky venues that has a niche market, and therefore, a dedicated customer base. Our customers and our staff are fantastic at supporting us; if not financially, then almost certainly on a personal level. As a business, we made the decision to push our merchandise sales to try and encourage an income boost. We sell tees, hoodies, hats, and ladies vests via our website.We had a fabulous response to this, and it’s paid for a full week of wages so far. We also had our rateable value grant from the government (which is available for all small businesses in the UK). Fortunately, our own council has been very efficient in making this payment.
We’ve received a small grant of £600 from Diageo. They quickly made this support available to suppliers of their brands (we supply Guinness and Smirnoff), and the speed at which they made this available made it invaluable. Creative Wales (a cultural department of the Welsh government) has also made a grant available for grassroots music venues which we have applied for. I guess this all seems like quite a lot of support, but in reality it will probably keep us going for 8 weeks with the amount of wages, rent, maintenance, insurance, accountancy and other outgoings that remain in place.
Social media activity has been of great importance in terms of keeping our brand alive. We’ve been trying to post about merch sales, our DJ’s have set up live DJ sets on Twitch, there’s been regular Zoom and Facebook contact between staff and customers, including re-surfacing of some old events and photos! One of our regular promoters, XIII Promotions, put together a benefit compilation of songs recorded by many of our regular musicians in order to donate some money to us! It was really astounding that people would put so much work into helping us get through this. Check it out here if you want to give it a listen… it’s called Rockdown (of course!).
We’re extremely grateful for the support we’ve had from the government, suppliers, staff, customers, MVT, bands and promoters, and other like-minded venues. Hopefully we’ll all make it through to the other side as a stronger business in all aspects."
On Monday Fuel also announced they have joined Music Venue Trust's nationwide campaign to #SaveOurVenues which is an effort to pull artists, music fans & local communities to act together to prevent their local music venues from permanently closing. You can donate to the crowd funded goal that is being raised to help these venues survive,
You can also support by buying 'R O C K D O W N, a Fuel Rock Club Benefit Compilation' which features a tonne of local bands that have played at the venue. 100% of all money raised will go towards Fuel and it's staff. Track listing can be found below.
Website - www.fuelrockclub.com
Facebook - /fuelcardiff
Twiitter - @FuelCardiff
Instagram - @fuelcardiff